Soft Path

Hard Path




Fuel Cells




A short history...
  • In 1882, Edison brought street lighting to New York City.
  • At the end of the Depression, the Rural Electrification Administration wired America's farms and villages.
  • In the 60's, utilities were selling the concept of the All Electric Home.
  • In the Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration invited the aluminum industry to build plants to take advantage of cheap hydropower.
  • The mindset was that energy was cheap. During this growth phase, no consideration was given to the efficient use of energy.
In the early 1970s, I became interested in the nuclear power controversy. The early plants of a couple hundred megawatts soon lost favor and the "bigger is better" approach took hold. Plants of 1,000 ~ 1,200 megawatts went on the fast track...... to disaster. WPPSS! They were doing crazy things to build big plants fast. There were stories about building parts of the project and then having to tear it down to make it right. At the time, I wondered why they didn't refine a plant of say 400MW, an M1A1 nuke. All the know-how picked up during the construction of one plant could be transferred to the next one. Plant M1A54 would be a substantially improved version of ol' M1A1. If you needed 1,200MW, you built three plants. The industry decided to do it their way and not my way. The Union of Concerned Scientists' website says:

Twenty five years ago, electric utility companies had ordered nearly 260 nuclear plants and it was widely reported that 1,000 nuclear plants would be needed by the year 2000 to satisfy U.S. energy demands. Since then, utility companies cancelled more nuclear plants than they have completed. Every one of the 39 nuclear power plants ordered since 1973 has been cancelled.


In 1976, Amory Lovins wrote a book called "Soft Energy Paths : toward a durable peace". There was also an article in Foreign Affairs magazine that year that told the same story.

In a handful of words, he said that the Hard Energy Path that we were on (and still are) is too expensive. The use of relatively simple technologies like solar, wind and efficient use of energy cost less and does more.

I became a fan. This guy makes a lot of sense. Consider this a fan site.

Amory and his partner Hunter are devoting their efforts to the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colorado. Click on their logo.


Amory's emphasis was more focused on the economic reasons to avoid nuclear power than the safety issues, of which there are many. Now we are in a slug-out over whether to use Yucca Mountain.

He offered hope. There was an alternative to big energy. The alternative was what he called the Soft Energy Path - doing more with less energy and enjoying it longer.

Everything was fine until 1973 when the Saudis hit us with an oil embargo. The embargo effected more than the drivers of big American iron at the gas pump, it impacted their home's electricity and heating oil bill. There was a flurry of interest in solar and alternative energy sources. Some architects focused on developing designs for energy efficient buildings that used passive and active solar systems. Congress passed legislation to incentivize people to use solar.

President Jimmy Carter put solar water heating panels on the roof of the White House to serve as an example. Some will remember the pictures of President Carter seated in front of the fireplace in a rocking chair dressed in a cardigan sweater. People thought of him as a "doom and gloomer". Many thought of conservation as a sissy approach. Real men should produce their way out of this mess.


Ronald Reagan came along in 1981 and pretty much killed the burgeoning solar industry. Reagan was a Hard Energy Path kind of guy. Thanks Ron. We'll remember you.


The Hard Energy Path looks at the future with the idea that in order to provide energy to consumers and industry, we need to build more power plants, drill for more oil, revive nuclear power and continue to burn, burn, burn, mindless of the consequences of this approach.

Hard Path guys, who think there may be something to this global warming business, offer nuclear power as the carbon-free alternative. Try to calculate the carbon dioxide contribution that 100s of thousands of truck and train shipments needed to move waste to Yucca Mountain. To quote from the press release of the United Transportation Union - "The Voice of Transportation Labor" -

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Trucks and trains hauling radioactive nuclear waste to the Nevada desert could start rumbling through Amarillo later this decade, according to the States News Service.

The Bush administration wants to move nuclear waste that currently is scattered in 131 facilities in 39 states to a single facility under Nevada's Yucca Mountain, 80 miles outside of Las Vegas.

If, as expected, the proposal wins congressional approval in the next few months, hundreds of thousands of truck- and train-loads of radioactive uranium pellets will have to be transported to the new nuclear graveyard.

Shipping will start as soon as the Yucca facility is built in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which is managing the project. The department says it will take nearly 40 years to move all of the waste.

Visit: http://www.utu.org/worksite/detail_news.cfm?ArticleID=1037

What is the fuel bill going to be for that project? How many tons of CO2 will these trucks transfer to the atmosphere? Our energy policy is so energy intensive.

60 Minutes did a good story.

911 changed everything. Now we realize how fragile our energy infrastructure is. Each one of those 100s of thousands of truck, rail and barge shipments of nuclear waste represents a tasty target for some wacko terrorist. A TOW missile could render one of those shipping casks asunder and by doing so create thousands of square miles of land that is worth nothing. We like to think that we have taken the necessary precautions to prevent another airliner hijacking. What happens if a 767 plows into a containment building? Is the risk of an attack on a liquefied natural gas tanker in Boston Harbor worth the convenience of doing nothing to reduce the need for the contents? Ari Fleischer told us that President Bush doesn't think Americans want to change their lifestyle. Ari, our lifestyle has changed.  What does Ari do now?

We go to great trouble to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Perish the thought that a group somewhere in the US, sympathetic to Al Qaida, sat down Sunday night for dinner and watched 60 Minutes tell its story of how vulnerable our chemical plants are to a terrorist attack. A terrorist can walk in through an unguarded gate and drop a satchel charge under the tank with the longest name. If the wind is blowing right, we're looking at expanding our contextual parameters.

We are at war now with an enemy that doesn't think the way we do. Thinking the enemy is evil doesn't do a thing for defeating him. He thinks we are evil.

One night, I tuned to C-SPAN and found a hearing of Senator Jeffords' Energy Committee. Administrator Christie T. Whitman, who I think is a babe, was there to report on clean coal technology. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe from Maine and big Bob Smith from New Hampshire described the damage caused by the emissions of NOX and SOX (nitric and sulphuric acid) and mercury; neat stuff like respiratory problems, cancer, dead forests and lakes that were crystal clear but had no fish. The coal-fired power plants causing the problem were in the Midwest. Oh dear, what to do? You can wash coal and scrub the smokestacks of NOX and SOX , but CO2 emissions continue unabated. None of these senators seemed to grasp the notion that we are engaged in this great carbon transfer process. With a global population increase every year and countries outside the US wanting a US living standard, why can't these legislators ask the question, "How long can we go on like this?"

I guess I believe the experts who say that we have a 100 year supply of coal. Great! What are we going to do with it? If we burn it, we aggravate the global warming problem. We don't want to burn it. Its best use is to hold the ground up.

Too many people want it to be like the good old days in the 50s and 60s. Energy was cheap. You didn't have to think about using energy efficiently; there was more where that came from. Things changed in 1973. We began to understand how valuable it was and started to think about ways to use energy more efficiently.

It seems like years of going down the Hard Path has put us in a terrible spot. To maintain peace in the region and insure a steady supply of oil, we have partnered with the Saudis. They have been gracious and allowed us to build military bases. These installations are in the best interest of the Saudi royalty and the oil industry. The have-nots in the region are serious about their religion which says it is wrong to have foreigners on Holy Ground. It would be best for everyone if we were to leave. No more support of Israel and corrupt Arab rulers. We don't need your stinking oil. I know. I am daft.

The cost of the Hard Path is not $2.95 a gallon. Add to it the externalities such as war and the Department of Homeland Security. What impact do they have on the size of the check you write on the 15th of April.

The cost of the Hard Path has to include the cost of disaster relief. Unless we can arrest the CO2 transfer, it seems like we will be spending an increasing amount on helping people recover from floods and violent storms. Insurance rates have increased so much that residents in Hurricane Alley wonder whether they can afford to stay. A related story can be found here.

Norlins is an interesting story. If the big storm comes along and drowns New Orleans in 20' of water, it will be a national disaster in several ways. The loss of 1000s of lives will be a national loss and a national responsibility to rebuild, if that is an option. This is a cost that we don't see at the pump.

I wonder how many gallons of fuel and tons of CO2 were used and emitted as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom?

It is encouraging to see that we have made progress. Porkers are more fuel efficient now than they were 30 years ago. Nevertheless, with a growing population we have become more dependant on foreign oil. As you read this article, you get the feeling that they think they have us by the short hairs. And they do. We are in a weird war. We have troops in Iraq dying at too fast a rate, but here at home, we carry on as if there is no connection. I like the idea of rationing gasoline. We are in a war. A little sacrifice at the gas pump might mean we don't have to have legions around the world maintaining a very fragile system to supply us with two-buck gas. One way to ration gas is to increase the federal tax on it. Maybe the first bar we would set is to price gas equivalently to that in Europe. Four to five bucks a gallon. The income from these added taxes would be available to buyers of efficient vehicles as massive rebates. The sooner we slim down our appetite for fossil-fueled energy, the better chance we have to reverse the carbon transfer problem, if it is possible.

Click on the link to the right. You will find a transcript of a NewsHour story that ran on 31 March 04. It was a very good discussion of the causes of the current spike in gas prices. They point out the insecurity that is part of the current system. What happens if a terrorist targets just one regional refiner?

I guess I am not surprised by the lack of mention that what is going on is a massive transfer of carbon from the ground to the atmosphere.

Vijay Vaitheeswaran says: "The truth is that most OPEC countries are cranking out oil as much as they can, as fast as they can.
    You say well what's behind the picture there? The real story is demand. China recently elbowed Japan aside to become the world's second largest oil-consuming economy."

It feels like we are driving hard for a big cliff and our leaders are not telling us about it. Wouldn't want to upset the flow of currency.

California has decided to take matters in their own hands.

Consider the World Energy Outlook...

Read what an Israeli, Dov Raviv, has to say. He should address a Joint Session of Congress.